Green Turns to Black as the Burning Kites Descend

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Over 2,100 dunam (approx 525 acres) of woodland have gone up in smoke, and slow-moving creatures cannot escape the fires caused by the incendiary kites that drift over from the Gaza Strip. Danny Ben David, Director of KKL-JNF’s Western Negev region, can see no end to the situation: “Fire is death to woodland. Apart from the immediate financial damage, harm is being done all the way down the line for many, many years ahead.”

Blackened Nature Reserves: The Incendiary Kites’ Destruction of Nature

Thousands of dunam of woodland and nature reserves in the Western Negev have gone up in flames in recent weeks as a result of the kite terrorism from the Gaza Strip. “This can’t be rehabilitated within just a few months. It’s a process that’ll take the next thirty years,” say KKL-JNF experts. Just look at the damage that has been inflicted on the Besor Stream nature reserve.
Ilana Curiel

Because of terrorism, green has turned to black.
Over 260 fires have broken out in the Gaza Periphery since April because of the incendiary kites dispatched from the Gaza Strip. But it is not just local farmers who have suffered the consequences of this arson: nature reserves and forests have been similarly blighted. According to KKL-JNF data, over 2,100 dunam (approx 525 acres) of woodland have gone up in smoke, mainly in the forests of Beeri and Kissufim, both of which are close to the border with Gaza. The farmers’ wheat fields are local gazelles’ preferred birthing site, and the populations of reptiles that live in natural areas such as Beeri Forest and the Besor gully will take a long time to recover.

“The fires have a significant ecological impact on nature reserves like the Besor Stream and Beeri Forest,” said Dr Asaf Tzoar / Zoar, ecologist to the Nature and Parks Authority’s Southern Region. “In may cases these are brush fires, which spread quickly, slow-moving creatures such as chameleons and tortoises can’t escape and the local populations are quite simply wiped out. Fast-moving animals can run away, but there are those who cannot flee.”

He continued: “Fortunately for the birds, the fires began towards the end of the nesting season. However, this means that fledglings that can’t fly well yet don’t survive the flames.”

A fifth of the nature reserve has gone up in flames
Southern Region ecologists have carried out an initial survey of the area in order to assess the destruction, but Nature and Parks Authority staff know that it will take them a long time yet to grasp the full extent of the disaster and attempt to redress the damage. “At this rate, all the vegetation is done for. Large areas of it won’t recover until the next rainfall, and the animals’ habitat has been reduced. There are fires almost daily. In a normal year we have fires here and there, but the last fire at the Besor Stream destroyed around 3,000 dunam of nature reserve. It’s cumulative. It means that the Besor Stream area is done for until the next rainy season, and the animals’ entire grazing area is shrinking. This year it’s clear that the rules of the game are totally different. It’s still hard to know how this will affect nature. If it continues into the summer, we’ll be in trouble.”

The Besor Stream fire destroyed about a fifth of the area of the nature reserve. This was one of the worst fires in the region, but the cause of the blaze is still unclear. The forests of Beeri and Kissufim come under almost daily attack from the Gaza kites, and the Assaf Simhoni Forest adjacent to Kfar Aza has also been damaged.

Danny Ben David, Director of KKL-JNF’s Western Negev region, can see no end to the situation. Over 2,100 dunam of mature forest have gone up in smoke. The trees that were burned were thirty years old and more, and they were in their prime. “When a wheat field burns the economic damage is immediate, but in another four or five months you can plough the plot and then grow wheat again. But for us, with the forests, it’s not something you can remedy within just a few months. If you want to rehabilitate, you’re looking at a process that lasts for thirty years. Fire is death to woodland. Apart from the immediate financial damage, harm is caused all the way down the line for many, many years ahead.”

Apart from the damage to nature, tourism, too, is expected to suffer a significant blow, as Beeri Forest is a very popular venue for both cyclists and hikers.
Will the anemones bloom?
Ben David also expressed anxiety for the fate of the anemones. “I don’t know how this will affect them,” he said, and explained that anemones grow from bulbs. “When herbaceous plants are burned and consumed the bulbs can grow and develop better, so I don’t know yet what the effect will be.” During Operation Protective Edge some 3,500 dunam of forest was burned, and the damage, according to KKL-JNF, was estimated at about one million NIS. Initial estimates of the damage caused to woodlands since the incendiary kite terrorism began amount to five million NIS or more.

“For the past few weeks we’ve been suffering a terrible plague of fires,” says Moran Bakish, a ranger in the Nature and Parks Authority’s Western Negev region. “The Beeri Reserve and the Besor Stream were burned. The Besor Stream area was burned from Tel Sheruhan all the way southwards. As far as we’re concerned, what has happened to the animals is a disaster. During the fire we saw a good number of animals fleeing the scene. The Western Negev doesn’t offer many places of concealment, as most of the area is farmland, and now we’ve lost a huge area where animals can find shelter. That’s one of the most painful things to see, especially when you know the habitat well and can understand what’s going on there. Most of our energies at present are directed towards trying to stop the fire, and the truly painful moments will come afterwards. From a botanical point of view, the vegetation will renew itself fairly quickly – within a year, by my estimate. But it won’t go back to the way it was before. And as far as the animals are concerned, things will take longer.”

In actuality, the most difficult thing for those who strive to conserve nature and wildlife is the uncertainty. “No one knows when it will end,” says Ben David. “But we have to put an end to it. For almost two months now we’ve been coping with this and there’s still no end in view. Apart from the frustration, I think about two things: one is – how long will it take us to rehabilitate the forests? And the other is that I can’t see how it will end. The army reacts forcefully to every crossing of the border fence, and to every mortar fired. But the damage here is much greater than that caused by a salvo of mortars falling in open ground. It’s frustrating that they can’t seem to find a solution, and the State hasn’t really provided a response. As far as I’m concerned, every tree is a soldier, they’re like body armor.”

Ben David is referring, of course, to the “security trees” that are planted in order to protect Israeli communities and conceal them from the eyes of terrorists in the Gaza Strip. “Imagine a mortar landing in a kibbutz and, when its shrapnel scatters in all directions, it gets stuck in the trees. They’re the kibbutz’s body armor, and they save lives.”